- Responsive steering
- Capable chassis
- Solid cabin construction
- Loads of electronics features
- Sedan's perfect safety scores
- Available coupe body style
- Smaller backseat than rivals
- Coupe's wonky manual shifter
- Complex options structure
"Fun for the whole family!" is usually attached to large buffet restaurants or miniature golf courses, but occasionally it applies to cars. Yes, it's possible for Dad or Mom to have a modicum of fun behind the wheel without squishing Junior into a cramped backseat and jostling him around with a firm ride. There are a few such candidates in the family sedan category, with the 2010 Nissan Altima being one of our favorites. As a bonus, it's also available as a coupe for those who don't need a whole family to tag along.
The amount of fun you'll have will somewhat depend on whether you choose the four-cylinder engine or the V6. The latter comes standard with a sport-tuned suspension that trades some ride comfort for sharper handling, making the V6-powered Altima 3.5 SR model feel more like a sport sedan in family-friendly clothing. The four-cylinder car is more sedate due to its softer suspension and considerable power deficit relative to the V6. Still, all Altimas will be more involving to drive than sedans purely focused on comfort, such as the Hyundai Sonata or Toyota Camry.
For 2010, the current-generation Altima receives its first significant update since its debut back in 2007. This includes a restyled front end and the welcome addition of standard stability control across the board. Nissan has also upgraded the stereo, navigation and Bluetooth systems, making the Altima one of the most high-tech models in the midsize sedan and coupe markets.
Unfortunately, that equipment comes in expensive options packages, which in some cases must be paired with other packages. This structuring makes it difficult to pick and choose among options you would consider essential or frivolous. Another downside to the Altima is its backseat, which isn't quite as roomy as what you'll find in other top models. Then again, bigger isn't always better, as the Altima's "just right" size is a major contributor to its athleticism.
All said, we consider the 2010 Nissan Altima to be one of the class leaders -- especially with the V6. There are some other models we'd strongly suggest checking out -- the highly impressive Ford Fusion, the perennially popular Honda Accord, the enjoyable Mazda 6 and the new Suzuki Kizashi come to mind -- but should you choose a Nissan Altima, it will surely provide plenty of fun for the whole family.
WHAT'S NEW FOR 2010
The 2010 Nissan Altima has been refreshed with a restyled front fascia and standard stability control. There is also a newly upgraded sound system with an iPod interface, while the navigation system has been enhanced with a larger touchscreen, additional real-time satellite information, Bluetooth audio connectivity and digital music storage. Finally, the 3.5 SE model has been renamed 3.5 SR and loses its available manual transmission in sedan form.
TRIMS & EQUIPMENT
The 2010 Nissan Altima is available in sedan and coupe body styles. The hybrid-powered Altima sedan is reviewed separately. The base sedan is the 2.5, which is sparsely equipped and only available by customer order. Standard equipment includes 16-inch steel wheels, cruise control, keyless entry, full power accessories, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, air-conditioning and a trip computer. No options are available and a stereo is not included, but the car is prewired for one with four speakers.
The 2.5 S trim is available on both sedan and coupe. It adds to the base car keyless ignition and entry and a six-speaker stereo with a CD player and an auxiliary audio jack. The 2.5 S coupe adds 17-inch alloy wheels. You can get more equipment with the 2.5 S Convenience package, which adds 16-inch alloy wheels (sedan), an eight-way power driver seat, automatic headlights and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls.
The 2.5 S Convenience Plus package (sedan only) adds a sunroof and dual-zone automatic climate control. The 2.5 S Premium Audio package (sedan only) adds a nine-speaker Bose stereo, a color display, a rearview camera, Bluetooth, an iPod interface and satellite radio. The 2.5 S Premium package for the coupe essentially adds all the optional content listed above.
The 2.5 SL package for the sedan adds leather upholstery, heated front seats, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and rear A/C vents. The SL package is known as the Leather package on the coupe; it lacks rear A/C vents but gains xenon headlights.
The 3.5 SR adds a V6 engine, 17-inch alloy wheels (18s for the coupe), a sport-tuned suspension, heated side mirrors and the contents of the 2.5 S Convenience package. The 3.5 SR Sport package available on the sedan adds a sunroof, xenon headlights, a rear spoiler, foglights and dual-zone climate control. The 3.5 SR Premium package available on both cars essentially includes all the 2.5 S coupe Premium package, SL package and Premium Audio package items.
The Technology package available on the 2.5 S and 3.5 SR trims of both sedan and coupe includes a hard-drive navigation system, real-time traffic and weather updates, Bluetooth streaming audio and digital music storage.
INTERIOR & SAFETY
The 2010 Nissan Altima offers a quiet and attractive cabin made with top-notch materials, though the overall appearance is a little dour, especially in black. All coupes come with sportier seats that feature more side bolstering than the sedan's relatively flat chairs. Controls are straightforward, even with the optional navigation system, and updates made for 2010, including items like Bluetooth streaming audio and an iPod interface, keep the Altima current in the rapidly evolving world of in-car electronics.
Space is quite good in the Altima, although rear headroom is a little tight compared to some competitors, and the back headrests are built into the seatback rather than being adjustable. Legroom also trails the competition by the numbers, though in practice the Altima is plenty roomy in this regard. The coupe's backseat, however, is notably cramped, particularly if you compare it to the one in the Honda Accord coupe; however, it's acceptable for brief jaunts with one or two average-size adults. The sedan offers a decent 15.3-cubic-foot trunk, while the coupe is significantly smaller at 8.2 cubic feet.
Every Altima comes standard with antilock brakes, stability and traction control, front side airbags and side curtain airbags. In Edmunds brake testing, the Altima 3.5 with 17-inch wheels (regardless of body style) came to a stop from 60 mph in about 130 feet, a performance deemed average by our testing team.
In government crash testing, the Altima sedan received a perfect five stars for frontal protection, while the coupe got four stars. Both models got a five-star side rating, however. The Altima sedan received the best possible rating of "Good" in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's frontal-offset and side crash tests.
PERFORMANCE & HANDLING
The 2010 Nissan Altima features two engine choices. The 2.5 models get a 2.5-liter four-cylinder that produces 175 horsepower and 180 pound-feet of torque. A continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) is mandatory on the sedan, while the coupe gets a standard six-speed manual transmission and the CVT as an option. EPA estimated fuel economy is 23 mpg city/32 mpg highway and 27 mpg combined with the CVT and 23/31/26 with the manual.
The 3.5 SR models get a 3.5-liter V6 that produces 270 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. This engine gets the same transmission choices as the 2.5. In Edmunds performance testing, a 3.5 sedan went from zero to 60 mph in 7 seconds. The coupe with the CVT did the same sprint in 6.7 seconds; with the manual, it dropped to 6.5. EPA fuel economy is 20/27/23 for the CVT and 18/27/21 for the manual.
The 2010 Nissan Altima is really a tale of two cars. The four-cylinder will be the choice of many, but our opinions are divided on the CVT, with some editors complaining that it makes the engine seem overly noisy and labored during acceleration. Four-cylinder cars also lack the sport-tuned suspension of the V6 model. A less special driving experience is the result, though you do get a more comfortable ride quality out of the deal, and the chassis is still sportier than the norm for this segment.
The V6 is a different matter. The CVT is much better suited to the more powerful V6, and the sport suspension pairs with precise steering to make the Altima drive like a discount sport sedan. The coupe is available with a manual transmission, but despite this model's intended sportiness, we'd stick with the CVT. The manual gearbox has a sudden clutch engagement and sloppy gear selection.
The 2010 Nissan Altima is an excellent pick for a midsize sedan or coupe, particularly if you're looking for something with some sporting flair.